The nature of moving forward

September 27, 2010 at 9:46 am | Posted in Long Blogs | 1 Comment
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There is a moth frantically dive-bombing the walls and lights in the kitchen tonight.  As desperate as it sounds to my ears, perhaps every moth making a beeline (haha) from one lumen to the next is actually filled with carefree abandon.  But here we are, in the final days of September, and it hit 90 or higher today and a summer insect is careening through my house like it’s June.

Chloe has been a college student for exactly one month. 

I have rarely in my adult life had a busier month, and am relieved to be able to say that the crush of too-much-at-once is behind me.  I would try to enumerate it all here, but that’s not really why I am writing tonight.  I am writing tonight to explain why I did not write yesterday, as I had intended to do – and actually did do.  Until the computer challenged me and I retreated.

One of the factors that has contributed to my busyness is that I now spend Monday evenings taking Rachel to an orchestra rehearsal 45 minutes away (each way).  We go straight from school at 3:10 so that she can have a snack and short homework session before her violin lesson, fit in another study break and a hasty bite for supper, and then orchestra from 6:00 to 8:45.  We finally return home a little after 9:30.  Once the snow season starts, we will get home even later some weeks.  It’s a very long day for her, and for me as well. 

After the first four Mondays, it dawned on me that I could use the time during her rehearsals to write my weekly report to the parents of my students, and also to write my blog.  If only I had a laptop.  I casually mentioned this to Dan last Tuesday, and, computer geek that he is (I assure you it is his own term for himself – in my opinion he is much too well-adjusted socially to be considered a geek) he was willing, even eager, to find me a refurbished model.  Eager, indeed.  I had myself a “new” laptop before the end of the week.  Dan loaded the necessary software and virus protection onto it and presented it to me after lunch Thursday.  Cool!

It happened to be one of my “orchestra weeks” during which my baroque chamber group – this time our concerts involved thirteen performers – spends three days rehearsing for a weekend of local concerts.  This means that I spend several days floating from one rehearsal to whatever classes and lessons I am able to teach to a quick meal and back to the next rehearsal  – happy, usually more than a little stressed, and definitely stretched in terms of time and energy.  So it wasn’t until yesterday, the second concert day, that I actually had a little uncommitted time. 

It was a beautiful day outside.  Sunny, clear, a little breeze, and that little touch of autumn that starts to make itself evident in those days when the sunlight takes on more of a slant.  Since I had spent most of the week inside, I decided I would take advantage of the perfect weather.   I went out in our backyard and settled myself onto a patio chair, a little giddy with the romantic image of working on MY laptop, which I placed before me, small 21st century altar on the picnic table.  Dan was mowing the lawn and Bella was merrily cavorting between the flying bits of grass and the bees she loves to chase around the raspberry bushes. 

I opened with a paragraph about the splinters emanating from the rough wood of the table, moved from there to Bella’s bee habit, and was just segueing into yesterday’s theme – no small feat, it had taken me so many weeks to be ready to actually put words to paper – when my new ally, my dear refurb, abruptly interrupted with an alarming announcement that something very serious was happening and it was forced to abort all present activities in order to protect itself.

Barely three paragraphs into my fragile beginning, my words were erased.     

It’s not that it had taken that much time to write them.  It’s not even that it was that good.  But in that shattering moment (not quite the blue screen of death, but those big white words on the black screen are a little scary – just saying) I was demoralized.  The universe doesn’t want me to write?  FINE!  I cursed the very laptop I had been worshipping only moments before.  I made an angry and upset show of closing it down, Dan all the while instructing me that I need to use the computer some more so we can see if it happens again.  HAPPENS AGAIN?  I’m going to pour my heart out onto its soulless – not to mention conscienceless – keys again, JUST TO FIND OUT IF IT IS FUNCTIONING PROPERLY?  Which by the way I just expect it to do because THAT’S ITS ONLY JOB AND PURPOSE IN LIFE! 

I’m calmer now.  It didn’t even take me that long to regain my normal heart and breathing rates.  Dan expressed his sympathy for what I lost and I thanked him for showing me that he has much more of a heart than the machine that provides most of our income, as grateful as I am for that.  My higher self knew that I would find a new starting place and compose a new set of paragraphs, and still be able to post a blog within a day or two.  And in the meantime Dan identified a few outdated “device drivers” that may have contributed to the crash.  He is replacing each one with a newer version.  For my part, I will employ the “save” function sometime during the first paragraph from now on, instead of being so cavalier as to trust a mere hard drive with words that often do not come easily.  Lessons learned, little harm done.

By the way, in case you are curious as to the theme of the lost essay, it was this.  For those of you who remember how it felt to go from two to three, from a coupledom to a threesome – how suddenly it hit you that life would never again be the same – exactly, word for word, the phrase that our houseguests, a couple with a one-year-old angel boy – used oh so casually during a mealtime conversation on Wednesday – that is exactly and precisely what Dan and Rachel and I are experiencing.  But this time there is no fanfare.  No shower with gifts.  No sweet bundle to caress.  I can no more retrieve the days behind me than recover the lost words on my screen.  So instead I offer these.  And we all continue forward, since we cannot go back.  

Neither can the moth.  I found it this morning, nestled in the pages of one of Rachel’s violin books for its final rest.

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The school of leavings

September 4, 2010 at 10:39 pm | Posted in Long Blogs | 2 Comments
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I played music for a bat mitzvah service this morning, a very sweet occasion.  At the very end, right before the closing song, a passage written by Albert Einstein in 1954 was read:

“A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space.  We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest.  A kind of optical delusion of consciousness.  This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.  Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.  The true value of a human being is determined by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self.  We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive.”

An optical delusion of consciousness.  What a powerful and apt term!  I sat through the whole service teary-eyed and choked up – rites of passage always do that to me anyway, no doubt enhanced today by the freshness of Chloe’s leaving – and those words showed up as a lifeline, a rope to grab hold of to lead me out of my soggy puddle.  What is my life – your life, anybody’s life – but a meandering path of leavings, and of moving forward even when we want to hold on?

The day Dan and I began to try to conceive, I was thunderstruck by the realization that we had stepped onto the escalator of letting go.  Could we control whether or not we hit the jackpot (so to speak) this ovulatory cycle?  Never.  We had no say over any of it, speed nor date of conception, the nature of the pregnancy, the first miscarriage, the grieving process, how many months more of trying for the next, the nature of the next pregnancy… Obviously, I could go on for years with this list.  And once Chloe was born, and later Rachel, I had no control over the next set of variables.  Each step of developmental progress was another departure – from my body, from our arms and laps, from babyhood and soft sweet cheeks and wide open eyes and clinging, eager hands and ramrod posture and adorable outfits to everything that comes with every single stage of growing up.  I had pictured parenthood as the act of welcoming someone into the world.  What a surprise to learn I had it backwards!  Our children were welcoming us to a whole new curriculum of lessons to be learned.

I know I have not been the best of students in that school, though neither have I been the worst.  When I could not go by my own experience, I looked for others who could teach me.  I learned about being a gentle parent from three unlikely couples, namely, the parents of Frances and Gloria, in all the Priscilla Mary Warner children’s books; of Arthur and D. W., in the PBS series inspired by author Marc Brown; and of Ramona in Beverly Cleary’s classics.  They were great models for me in the area of love, patience, maturity, and understanding.  But their stories show little to nothing of the slow parade of good-byes that lie ahead.  Like Dorothy in the land of Oz, I had to find them for myself.

They did not come on the expected days, like the first morning of kindergarten or even the first time Chloe drove Rachel to their dance school and Dan and I were left waving on the porch, the air oddly sucked out of our lungs.  I felt it more when Chloe would come home from a play date a little farther away from my understanding, a new cockiness in her voice.  Or when Rachel suddenly didn’t need a good-night kiss and hug anymore.  Then who am I?  What am I now?

If I am first and foremost the one who brought them into the world and sustained them with the milk my body produced for them, I stand alone and separate, as Einstein observed.  But if I remember that I too navigated my path away from my mother and father into the world that was awaiting me, they join me as two more children in a long line, and we join all families.  All mothers and fathers were once children, following the drive to leave their parents, forever moving forward.  I can now turn with compassion toward my own parents, who must have grieved my moving out at age 19, though I didn’t notice at the time.  It was not my job to notice them!  I was joining the world – for myself, I thought at the time.  Now I know better.  The baby bird leaves the nest and flies off, to grow big enough to build another.  It is the way of the universe.  I will never know whether the mother and father bird shed tiny tears in their abandoned circle of twigs, but I know it is the same set of impulses, even if I use words to try to understand it all, and they do not ponder but only act. 

I am thankful to be swept up in the fast and fierce winds that meet my face as I hurtle helplessly forward in time.  It is comforting to me to be part of the very nature of things.  That in itself frees me (for the moment) from the prison of separateness and personal agenda.  And by the way, Einstein wrote that magnificent paragraph the year I was born.

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